WASHINGTON D.C. - I had heard all year about how special the big game between No. 7 DeMatha and No. 4 Gonzaga would be. I was excited, even calling it the biggest game of the year to my friends and family when detailing my plans for Sunday evening. But if I didn't know anything about the rivalry beforehand, I wouldn't have thought it was that heated based on what I saw. To be honest with you, the atmosphere for the game, which was played at Gallaudet University, was a little bit of a disappointment.
The game itself was a bit of a dud too, with Gonzaga ultimately coming away with a 62-52 win in a game that mimicked the crowd's lack of energy. It was a big win, of course, but it was also probably one of the least memorable games I've seen this year.
To be fair, maybe early evening on a Sunday isn't the most convenient time for most fans. Maybe it's harder for said fans to get to Gallaudet University than it would have been to get to either of the schools. But the energy and excitement just wasn't there.
The Gonzaga side of the gym was totally full, not rawcus by any means, but full at the very least. The DeMatha side of the gym, however was only about 2/3 full, and they didn't make much of an impact on the game. Gallaudet is only about 15-20 minutes away from DeMatha, so it's not like it was totally unreasonable for them to make it out to the biggest game of the year. Gonzaga had an entire section full of students. DeMatha had only a handful peppered throughout the crowd. I'm sure they will have more of a presence at next week's version of this game (to be played at DeMatha) but they weren't much of a factor on this day.
As for the game itself, the first half was played like the two teams were not aware of how much this game meant to their fanbases. Neither team got very much going on offense, and the game was marked by sloppiness. If it wasn't for Gonzaga sophomore forward Kris Jenkins, there wouldn't have been very much scoring at all.
Jenkins looked the only guy who wasn't afraid to take a big shot, and was the only guy able to knock them down consistently. He's a big guy, so it's a little surprising to see him step out behind the arc and take a three, but he hits them with enough regularity that you have to check him closely out there. In the first half alone, he hit three three-pointers and led all scorers with 12 points as Gonzaga took a 27-18 lead.
The second half was all about DeMatha slowly clawing away at the lead that the Eagles had built over the first 16 minutes. Gonzaga led 37-24 midway through the third quarter, but DeMatha rallied and eventually took a 45-44 lead in the fourth. It was a welcome sight for anyone who was rooting for a good basketball game instead of a win for either team (which might have just been been me, but who knows). To their credit, this is when the DeMatha crowd started to get into the game, and you could tell that the team was feeding off their energy.
But it was Jenkins, and fellow sophomore Nate Britt that put the Eagles ahead for good. Jenkins made an incredible diving save on one end of the floor to maintain possession. He came up wincing, but there was "no way" he was coming out of the game, he told me afterwards. A few possessions later, with the Stags up by one, Jenkins kicked the ball to Britt in the corner, and the point guard hit a huge three pointer to regain a two point lead. He hadn't hit a jump shot all night, but it isn't how you start .
That was it for DeMatha. After what felt like 45 minutes of free throws by the Eagles, and way more timeouts than the Stags should have been granted down nine in the last minute, the Eagles walked away with the win.
After the game, Gonzaga said all the right things. That this was just one game on the road to the playoffs, that every win in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference was a big one and that it mattered more for seeding than it did for any personal feelings of contempt they might have against the Stags, no matter how hard I tried to get them to say otherwise.
DeMatha will have a chance to get one back next week, when they host Gonzaga at its place. Since they have a little bit of a bigger gym, they can have the game there, and that has to represent some kind of advantage. I'm guessing, or maybe just hoping, that the atmosphere gets better when the game is played on of the team's campuses. Hopefully it will be a better introduction for me to this rivalry.